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Kiss of the Yogini

"Tantric Sex" in its South Asian Contexts

For those who wonder what relation actual Tantric practices bear to the "Tantric sex" currently being marketed so successfully in the West, David Gordon White has a simple answer: there is none. Sweeping away centuries of misunderstandings and misrepresentations, White returns to original texts, images, and ritual practices to reconstruct the history of South Asian Tantra from the medieval period to the present day.

Kiss of the Yogini focuses on what White identifies as the sole truly distinctive feature of South Asian Tantra: sexualized ritual practices, especially as expressed in the medieval Kaula rites. Such practices centered on the exchange of powerful, transformative sexual fluids between male practitioners and wild female bird and animal spirits known as Yoginis. It was only by "drinking" the sexual fluids of the Yoginis that men could enter the family of the supreme godhead and thereby obtain supernatural powers and transform themselves into gods. By focusing on sexual rituals, White resituates South Asian Tantra, in its precolonial form, at the center of religious, social, and political life, arguing that Tantra was the mainstream, and that in many ways it continues to influence contemporary Hinduism, even if reformist misunderstandings relegate it to a marginal position.

Kiss of the Yogini contains White’s own translations from over a dozen Tantras that have never before been translated into any European language. It will prove to be the definitive work for persons seeking to understand Tantra and the crucial role it has played in South Asian history, society, culture, and religion.

391 pages | 26 halftones, 2 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2003

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: Southeast Asia and Australia

History: General History

Religion: South and East Asian Religions


"There are many good, dull books about Tantra and many that are bad but interesting. This is true of many areas of knowledge, but Tantra is particularly susceptible both to juicy sensationalism and to an overcompensating academic desiccation. Kiss of the Yogini is one of the few good, interesting books about Tantra, a passionately argued work that transforms scholarly understanding of its subject. . . . By reconstructing the medieval South Asian Kaula and Tantric traditions that involved sexual practices, David White hopes to restore the dignity and autonomy of the people who invented them and continue to practise them. This monumental scholarly work does precisely that."

Wendy Doniger | Times Literary Supplement

“A masterfully researched, eloquently written, and compelling scholarly work. From her hazy Indo-European roots to contemporary Nike ads, White brings us a rich interdisciplinary study of the Hindu Yogini. . . . A valuable contribution to disciplines across the humanities and social sciences, and a much-needed and timely response to the rampant commodification of Tantra.”

Andrea Custodi | Anthropological Quarterly

“White’s significant new work sheds welcome light on the topic of Hindu Tantric sex. . . . The main strategic procedure White employs is, radically enough, to read Tantric language . . . literally. The result is a revelation of the internal logic of Tantric ritual and a new perspective on a wide range of old confusions,”

Jonathan C. Gold | Journal of Religion

“White argues that the truly perennial tradition within Indian religion, the predominant religious paradigm, has always been Tantric. Unfortunately, this Tantric tradition has been, to a larger extent, ignored by serious scholarship. White makes a valiant effort to remedy this omission.”

Apratim Barua | Contemporary South Asia

"A welcome and much-needed critical study of the role of sex in Indian Tantric texts, ritual, and iconography. Not only does this book force us to rethink the role of sex in Indian Tantra, but it also forces us to reevaluate the landscape of South Asian religions as a whole. . . . This is an important, powerful, provocative, and in many ways brilliant book that does reorient our understanding of Tantra and South Asian religion. As such it should be of serious interest not only to South Asianists, but to scholars of comparative religion, art historians, and anyone working in sexuality studies."

Hugh B. Urban | History of Religions

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Note on Transliteration
Abbreviations of Titles of Sanskrit Works
1. Tantra in Its South Asian Contexts
2. The Origins of the Yogini: Bird, Animal and Tree Goddesses and Demonesses in South Asia
3. The Blood of the Yogini: Vital and Sexual Fluids in South Asian Thought and Practice
4. The Mouth of the Yogini: Sexual Transactions in Tantric Ritual
5. The Power of the Yogini: Tantric Actors in South Asia
6. The Consort of the Yogini: South Asian Siddha Cults and Traditions
7. The Flight of the Yogini: Fueling the Flight of Tantric Witches
8. The Sublimation of the Yogini: The Subordination of the Feminine in High Hindu Tantra
9. Tantra New Millennium


American Academy of Religion: American Academy of Religion Awards for Excellence

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